Hank: (walking out the front door to our building, shivering) Wow. Burrrr. Mama, are you fine in those pants?
Me: (looking down at my leggings) Yup, right as rain.
Hank: (raised eyebrow at the strange American expression) Why is it that even though their pants you still feel the wind?! Burrr. (shivering)
Me: It is because you’re wearing a fiber, a fabric, denim. Even though you cannot see it there are tiny little gaps in the weave that lets air in.
Me: You cannot imagine what it is like to wear denim in the winter in America. Your jeans freeze and become stiff.
Hank: No way.
Me: True story. Only felt wool, leather and fur completely block the wind.
Hank: That makes sense because that is how animals survive outside all the time.
Me: Indeed. (deep breath) Now, to the business of last nights grounding.
Hank: (whole body sags) Oh no, mama, do we have to talk about this you are making me feel bad and you will ruin my whole day.
Me: I will do no such thing. You will make yourself feel bad and YOU will ruin your day. Hank, there was no need to take yesterday’s scolding for using two electronics at the same time, which is such a long standing house rule that it shocked me to even have to scold you, to such an extreme that you were grounded from electronics. Contrary to what you may believe you were not grounded for breaking the rule, you were grounded for punishing yourself.
Me: When I advise you not to do something, tell you you are on the wrong path, warn you not to touch molten hot lava, urge you not to mix plaids, point out that it is ill advised to mix baking soda with vinegar, caution you against the dangers of tight rope walking without proper training too far off the ground, warning you about the risks of opening an alligator dentistry practice…
Hank: (finally giggling)
Me: I do so because you are my son and you are still growing and learning and still require some guidance. I promise you, by the time you are 15 I will scale back, I will let you use what I have taught you and I will be here to listen, but seeing as you are nine (god help me) I have a few more years left of parenting you, so (sigh) when you crumbled into a heap last night and started beating yourself, hard, on the legs with your fists there was only one option.
Hank: You and Prima made me so mad.
Me: That doesn’t warrant your self-harm.
Hank: YOU WERE YELLING.
Me: That does not warrant your self-harm. You can scream back, you can rage, but you cannot hurt yourself. That must end.
Hank: (fuming) It didn’t hurt that much.
Me: Tonight, after your homework and as a part of your punishment I would like you to write me a letter.
Me: Regardless of all the magic I am able to make in my life and in yours I simply cannot read your mind, Hank Pereira, not possible and since the age of two you have gotten angry for reasons that baffle me and raged out of control and now instead of tantrums that never end you punish yourself by self-grounding or self-restricting technology or ice cream or by punching your legs hard and frankly I need to know why. I maybe able to make magic but I am not a mind reader, no one is.
Hank: (kicking buckeyes) It is because I am so angry. I am so angry all the time and I can’t let it out any other way and if I don’t let out my madness I will explode.
Me: (breakthrough) Oh. I never understood that until now. I only see what you show me on the outside not what is going on on the inside.
Hank: Yah. I am full of anger. (kicking buckeyes)
Me: Thank you for telling me. I am beginning to better understand now. I understand now when you punish yourself that it feels good to let the anger out, but Hank we gotta find a better way. How would you feel if when I became angry and disappointed I punched myself? What if I got mad and just punched myself in the face? How would that make you feel?
Hank: Mama, that is a stupid question, you know how I would feel.
Me: That is how I feel when I see you slamming your fists, hard, into your legs. You might as well be punching me. It feels exactly the same.
Hank: (sniffling against the morning chill, kicking buckeyes)
Me: With your permission I would like to help you find better ways of releasing the anger that boils up inside you.
Hank: (shrugs) You said it. I have been doing this my whole life. I am just full of anger.
Me: But your life isn’t over. You can make a different choice and I am here to help you, or if you would prefer your Prima can help you or Ana Santana or your papa, whomever you wish. We can change this now, because as you grow you will only get smarter and stronger and you will find other ways of punishing yourself to let go of your anger. This must end now for you to be the best you and for you to respect yourself. And because Molly… (stops myself from saying it)
Hank: What about Molly?
Me: (parenting fail, admitting defeat, shouldn’t have brought up the baby sister) Because Molly will learn how to let go of her anger from you.
Hank: (shocked, looking up) No.
Me: She wants to be just like you when she grows up.
Hank: (shoulder sagging sigh)
Me: (arm around his shoulder) I am so proud of you.
Hank: (shrugging me off) Why are you proud of me?
Me: Because you are brave enough to have this conversation. You are brave enough to listen and to confide in me what is deep inside you. Because I see you. Because you aren’t ignoring me and I see that you are willing to try to change this behavior. That makes you brave and that makes me proud.
Hank: I don’t feel brave.
Me: That is the ironic thing about brave people, they are just as frightened as everyone else but they try anyway.
Hank: (at the school gate, ready to walk away from this conversation and from me)
Me: (looking past him and up into the trees) I don’t need a hug today. I understand if you just need space.
Hank: (engulfing me in a huge, bear hug)
Me: (falling to my knees, in the street, in order to fully hug him back)